Tantra & Starting with Self

Starting with self: the inner masculine & feminine relationship influence on tantra & sexual intimacy

The last half-century has seen much activity in the migration of ideas and practices from the East to the West. Chakras, transcendental meditation, and yoga are increasingly familiar to those whose roots are planted in Western tradition. One of the latest philosophic concepts and yogic practices to make the occidental journey is Tantra. As with any journey and as has been seen with previous Eastern traditions, it is being changed by the journey and creating its own Western flavor.

Though Tantra has a tendency to be associated primarily with sexual expression, its original focus was the exploration of all the ways through which one can achieve union. Established around the 6th Century, Tantra (or Hindu Tantrism) was a philosophical discipline that explored how to enfold the Divine into our human experience, explained through the sacred texts called the tantras or the agamas. Traditionally, Tantra comprised of four parts: jnana (metaphysical knowledge), yoga (contemplative practices), kriya (ritual), and charya (religious guidelines). Though, emphasis on sexuality was practiced by certain Tantric groups, generally it was understood that each of these four parts was necessary in order to achieve true union and transcendence.

To extend the basic foundation of Tantric philosophy, union is experienced when we find cohesion and synthesis between opposites. Appreciating the dynamic between our human selves and our spiritual selves is one very key reflection of this. Tantra acknowledges that, even in our most human of moments, the Divine is present and that the Divine needs the human in order to be expressed fully. Both are beautiful and necessary in very different ways.

When this philosophy is applied to the interpersonal dynamic, particularly through sexual expression, it becomes even more exquisite and sublime. Between you and your partner(s), there needs to be the unquestioned respect that comes from knowing that you are both exact reflections of each other: the imperfect human and the perfection of the Divine. This is not to imply that you have to believe you are perfect (or your partner is for that matter). What it means is that there is acceptance and love that transcends our human imperfections and foibles.

Tantra is often presented in the West as holding the potential for ‘mind-blowing’ sex and phenomenal orgasms. And this is indeed true. But the steps for achieving this must include lowering the walls that prevent intimacy – the true union experienced as the absolute melting of one with the other. Tantric traditions often achieve optimal pleasure by emphasizing the sensual and spiritual aspects of shared intimacy rather than orgasmic release. The primary goal of sexual interaction is not the mere achievement of orgasm but an extension of sexual arousal for long periods of time – often several hours. In a culture that still struggles with codependent patterns, low self-esteem, and shame, the prospect of such vulnerability becomes, at best, challenging and, at worst, a terrifying proposition.

What is the very first step in opening oneself to Tantra? It is going within. The first union that needs to occur is the relationship between our inner feminine and our inner masculine.

Often, these inner aspects are at odds. To a large extent, our society tends to elevate the rational and sublimate the emotional, leading to a chasm within. We hide those parts of ourselves, which are earthy (or unreasonable or wild or dirty or hurt), in order to be accepted by others. We protect our vulnerable bits, thus limiting our ability to achieve true intimacy. This protection feels like it is providing safety, but in fact, it is holding the prison of shame in place. It is telling us that there is something about us that is wrong and will lead us to rejection.

To open ourselves to true intimacy and the promise of exquisite union, we must embrace those parts of ourselves that are hurt, that have been rejected in the past, that may not make sense to others (or even ourselves sometimes). But we also have to love those parts of ourselves that have criticized, berated and shamed us, accepting that those parts were trying to keep us safe, misguided though the methods may have been.

What does this have to do with sex and the possibility of achieving a satisfying orgasm? If we are holding ourselves back in any way physically, emotionally, or energetically, we will be limited in our sexual experience. If you do not trust that you will be accepted in all your flaws, as well as your beauty, your body will reflect that. If you do not trust your partner(s) physically or emotionally, you will be withdrawing rather than opening, often unconsciously.

There is no room for low self-esteem or inner shame in Tantra.

Going back to the very roots of Tantra and its practices, it is interesting to explore those traditional four parts as applied to the self.

Jnana: encouraging contemplation of our true nature and setting aside the masks we may present to the world, jnana leads to self-acceptance and self-love.

Yoga: particularly through the asanas (or postures), yoga reconnects us to our individual bodies, allowing each of us to nurture our body’s strength, discovering the full range of its potential.

Kriya: enacting the rituals of self-care (including healthy habits and openness to play), not only reflects the honoring of self, it also provides a framework for how we can expect others to treat us as well.

Charya: though charya is generally interpreted as spiritual principles, when applied to the self, it can serve to guide us to become clear in our beliefs and values. Intimacy requires us to stand with integrity in what we hold most dear to our hearts.

The inner feminine supports us in exploring yoga and kriya. It is she who revels in the marvel of our bodies, thrills to its expression, and joyfully cares for it. The inner masculine supports us in exploring jnana and charya. It is he who offers insight on what drives and motivates us, encouraging us to release that which presents an inauthentic face to the world.

When the inner feminine and inner masculine entwine with love of self and passion for life, then we have achieved the tantric state. What flows from that is the true potential for union with another and Divine bliss.

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